92. How to succeed as a novelist – more facts

In a previous post I summarised Jim Hines’ fascinating survey of the success factors for 246 authors. Now I’ve come across another survey of 150 authors by Graeme Shimmin.

Shimmin
Photo © Graeme Shimmin

The conclusions of the two studies are remarkably similar, despite Hines being from the US and Shimmin from the UK.

Success factor Jim Hines (US)

246 authors

Graeme Shimmin (UK)

150 authors

Average time writing before publication 11.5 years No data
Previous publications track record Only half (52.8%) had published short stories prior to first novel publication Only 28% had published short stories but 86% had some form of prior publication including:

  • 10% self-published novels
  • 11% internet publication
  • 21% journalism
  • 9% non-fiction books

However, paradoxically, 54% said they had no “platform” or that a platform was not a factor in their success

Creative writing qualifications Just under half (48%) had a  relevant degree A third (34%) had a relevant degree.

But 86% had done some sort of writing course mostly non-academic courses or retreats

Networking and contacts  61% had attended a writer’s convention and 59% were members of a writing group.

Three quarters had no contacts before publication.

Less than a quarter of agented authors had been recommended by a friend, and only 5% knew the agent beforehand in a personal capacity.

A quarter (26%) used contacts (of which over half came from working in publishing or a literary agency and a fifth from knowing a published author).

 

Most had some contact with the literary world

 

 

Route to publication Over half (55%) went through an agent. For those achieving breakthrough in the 21st century, agents were involved in two thirds (67%) of the successes

 

No data on competitions or other routes

No specific data on agents

A third (32%)  succeeded with unsolicited submissions (key success factors were the quality of the writing, the commercial nature of the text and the quality of the pitch)

A quarter (26%) went through open submissions or competitions

A quarter (26%) used contacts (see above)

16% were approached by an agent or publisher and asked to submit

Conclusions

  1. Time spent learning your craft is essential. Expect to struggle for years. Joining writing groups, non-academic courses and writers’ retreats may help. Creative writing or English degrees are not necessary.
  2. A track record in publishing short stories is helpful but not necessary, though some form of publication track record may help to create profile and credibility.
  3. Having an agent is increasingly important according to Hines. Shimmin’s survey has no data on agents.
  4. Unsolicited submissions can succeed in a significant minority of cases, especially where the writing has commercial prospects. Entering open submissions and competitions can help, as can working your contacts.
  5. Building up your networks and experience of the writing world may help, though don’t over-emphasise the importance of developing your “platform”

The main difference between the two surveys is Shimmin’s emphasis on networking and contacts, which Hines concludes is not so important. However, this seems to be a question of interpretation, rather than numbers. Their data is similar, indicating that around a quarter of successful submissions went through contacts.

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